Literature: The Diviners

“Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on.
Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells 'em off for a coupla stones.”

The Diviners is a 2012 young adult novel by Libba Bray. Like her first hit series, the Gemma Doyle trilogy, The Diviners is a gothic historical novel and due for expansion into a series. Not to be confused with the 1974 novel of the same name by Margaret Laurence.

Set in New York City during the 1920s, the novel chronicles the story of Evangeline "Evie" Fitzgerald O'Neill, a flapper with a heart of gold and a secret: she has the ability to read secrets and memories from personal objects, such as a hat or a glove. When Evie causes a scandal in her small hometown of Zenith, Ohio, her parents send her to live with her Uncle Will in New York. Uncle Will is the curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult and a foremost scholarly expert on all things supernatural. When a series of murders take place that bear several occult characteristics, Uncle Will is called on to assist in the investigation - and Evie, sniffing out adventure, inserts herself at his side. But her strange power may be the secret to solving the murders.

And through it all, something dark is rising.

The Diviners demonstrates the following tropes:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: Abandoned as in late at night and empty, but still in use. The site of Naughty John's second kill.
  • Bad Black Barf: The Proctor sisters tell Evie the gruesome backstory of the Bennington, which includes people suffering from the fever expelling "vomitus the color of black night."
  • Bad Dreams: Besides their powers, incomprehensible prophetic dreams are the thing that tie all Diviners together.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The men who move like shadows, whose presence subtly laces through the course of the book.
  • Hidden Depths: Everyone, but Evie in particular is a notable example. She's the consummate flapper, and initially comes across as shallow, selfish, self-absorbed, frivolous, and (arguably) unlikable. But beneath the devil-may-care party girl attitude is a girl who is in turns extremely compassionate and deeply insecure, and who still grieves for the loss of her brother during the war.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Mabel likes Jericho, who likes Evie. Sam likes Evie, who likes Jericho. Mabel may also be starting to like the mysterious Arthur Brown.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Averted with Evie and Theta. While they're not especially sexually promiscuous, Theta is definitely not a virgin, and Evie in particular really enjoys flirting and making out with boys.
Jericho: So I shot the man in the back.
Evie: Interesting.
Jericho: And then I took his head, which I keep under my bed.
Evie: Of course.
Jericho: Evie. Evie!
Jericho: You're not listening.
Evie: Oh, I pos-i-tute-ly am, Jericho!
Jericho: What did I just say?
Evie: Well, whatever it was, I'm sure it was very, very smart.
  • Occult Detective: Evie, Will and Jericho investigating the Pentacle Killer Also known as Naughty John.
  • Parental Abandonment: Evie's parents ship her off to New York to live with her uncle. Theta was raised by a foster mother. Mabel's parents are present, but rarely have time for her. Memphis's mother passed away when he was young and his father left them to move to Chicago for work. Jericho's parents signed him over to the state when he was hospitalized.
  • Roaring Twenties: This book is set in 1927,and Libba Bray made an amazingly good job in recreating the magic of the Jazz age with huge amounts of research. Everything from the famous stars, the racial tensions to the conventions of the '20s are contained or referenced in it.
  • Soul Jar: Naughty John made his house into one. Also, the ritual to destroy Naughty John's spirit involves sealing his ghost into one of these.